The Procidan race: getting around

I really wanted to have a slow holiday. I wasn’t writing lists of things to see and do, I wasn’t reading guidebooks, I wasn’t getting prepared. I picked a place that was attracting me and I was sure we would have a great time there. I wanted Procida to surprise me, and it surely did, in many ways.

The first surprise came within 5 minutes after our arrival on the island. We got on the local small bus and found ourselves in a mad race. It was very funny as I was trying not to fall, to hold my daughter and our 4 bags at the same time. Although the speed limit is quite low on the island, I think 40 km/h, when we were on the bus it felt like we were going much faster. Streets are very narrow and traffic is heavy. Where are all these people coming from?


Well, I imagined Procida as a sleepy, quiet island in the Tyrrhenian sea. I couldn’t have been wronger. With a territory of appr. 4 square kilometers and about 11.000 inhabitants, it’s the most densely populated island in the Mediterranean. Actually, that’s great, I love having local people around. What I don’t like is the crowds of tourists, but that surely did not happen here. In 10 days we only heard Italian, and the travellers we talked to came from Naples, other towns in Campania or Rome. Weekdays were really quiet, very few people in the restaurants and mainly local families on the beach. Then during the weekend numerous yachts and sailboats arrived, as Procida is a popular weekend destination of the rich and famous in Naples. Restaurants filled up, but otherwise, as these people are usually sleeping on their yachts and also swimming off their yacths, the island did not feel much busier. Anyway, note the difference between the two photos below.



But let’s get back to traffic. As in many historical towns in Italy, houses were built close to each other, and roads are very narrow. They were not meant for car traffic. When the small bus is rushing around the island and another car comes, things get very tight. They are basically touching the wall on both sides, no wonder all the cars are full of scratches and other damages. Look at how this car is parked.


Don’t even dream of having a nice comfortable family car in Procida. Most people own the tiniest Fiat possible, and the island is full of Vespas, Apes (3-wheel mini trucks) and electric bikes.


I have never seen so many electric bikes in my life. It makes sense as you need to go up and down the hill, so it would be quite challenging with a regular bike. Old ladies put a basket to the front and go shopping, children bike to school. And they all go fast, at least that’s how it seemed to me. Plus, while racing around on their vehicle, they are talking to each other or on the phone, overtaking, beeping the horn, a total chaos. It’s like taking a piece of Naples traffic and dropping it on this cute little island. Really controversial and funny at the same time. I loved watching the traffic while waiting in the bus stops.


So, do not bring your car here. Do not rent a car. You can rent a vespa or electric bike if you are brave enough, otherwise just walk, take the small buses or the taxi. There are funny microtaxis running around the island.


Of course traffic is worst on the main street that local people call "Il Canale" (the Channel). It runs from Marina Grande to Chiaiolella on the other side, crossing the entire island. I was surprised to hear that despite its tiny area, Procida has over 30 kilometers of small streets and narrow lanes, which are usually more quiet and surely worth discovering.


So an electric bike can be a fun way to visit the island, to find its hidden treasures and the different beaches. I was also thinking of renting one, but with a 4-year-old sitting behind me I opted for the safer version this time, the bus.


For me, travelling with a small child, the scariest thing was that often there is no sidewalk. So imagine the insane traffic on the narrow roads, AND all the people walking around. On our first morning we had to go to the bank, I was told it’s only a short walking distance. Well, maybe it was a short walking distance, but I felt we were never going to get there. We were trying to move very close to the wall, but sometimes had to stop in a doorway to let traffic pass by. I saw cars entering into tiny streets closing their side mirrors, otherwise they wouldn’t fit.


One day I asked a policeman how many people they have lost because of traffic accidents. He said zero. I could not believe it. He said the people here are very used to this and good at driving in this chaos. Also, they are going slow. Well, yes, actually they do go slow, but it surely gets some time to get used to this. By the end of our 10 days we were walking around more confidently, but we still used the bus as well. By the way, a bus ticket costs 1.50 EUR in the ticket office, but more if you buy it on the bus. I got an unlimited weekly pass for 14.50 EUR, if you are spending more days in Procida it’s worth getting it. Also, take a photo of the timetable at the main bus stop at the Marina Grande so you’ll know more or less when you can expect them. But remember, buses are running on South Italian island time, so might be late.

Of course, if you are not travelling with a small child, walking around is much easier. The island is small, you can basically walk around it in a few hours. And walking is the best way to enjoy slow travel, experience the atmosphere and discover many details: beautiful palaces, pretty doors, hidden gardens, the bar at the corner, great lookout points. Plus you’ll feel less guilty about that tiramisu at 10PM. So my best advice is: just walk!


One afternoon, while walking home from the beach, we were surprised to see that the main street was empty, no traffic. As I am curious and love chatting around, I asked the policeman what happenned. He told me every day they close the street when kids finish school, so they can safely walk or bike home. Wow, what a wonderful idea! I also found out that at certain times they close the street so people can enjoy strolling around, also helping shop owners this way to have more people enter their little stores. I love this idea as well.


Another day we had a very funny Procidan experience. I had previously talked to our host, Salvatore, about a future collaboration. As their apartments are very nice, I offer them to my clients travelling to Procida. He told me they can offer some other properties as well, some independent apartments in Corricella and Chiaiolella, and a wonderful private villa. We agreed to go and see all these properties. So one morning, we got into his car and he started driving towards the villa. After a few minutes we had a flat tire, which was a problem because the previous night he also had a puncture, so he had no spare wheel left. Having no other choice, we started to walk. We were in a quieter part of the island, but soon a car was coming. Salvatore stopped the car, it was a friend of his. Luckily his spare wheel was the same size. So he took us back to our car and after Salvatore changed the tire, we finally made it to the wonderful villa. Well, the advantage of living on a small island: the people of Procida know almost everybody else. So if they have a problem with their car, no worries, within a few minutes a family member, a friend or a colleague will probably pass by and give them a hand.


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